Dressing the (Smaller)Man

As important as proportions and fit are for the average man, their value is amplified for a shorter guy. If you’re short, the rest of your proportions are usually a bit smaller as well. This means the already-too-large off-the-rack clothing that drowns most men will completely obliterate you. Check out this shot from GQ.

 The suit above is about three sizes too big, the pants are way too long, the shoulders are too wide, the sleeves are large. This kid just looks awful. There is an added downside to not dressing well for shorter guys in that it makes you look like a child. The image above makes me think of a 16-year-old boy on the way to his first job interview. He didn’t have a suit of his own so he borrowed his dad’s.  No man or woman will be able to take you seriously with ill-fitting and child-image-inducing clothing.

Thankfully, there are certain rules and guidelines that apply specifically to smaller men.

  • The first thing you need to do is embrace the fact that you’re smaller. Our egos don’t like doing this as it makes us feel inadequate but you’re only going to look smaller by not embracing your actual size. If you’re 5′ 8″ or shorter you should be sizing down your suits and jackets to a Short.
  • Next is having everything either custom-made or tailored to fit you like a glove. This means having the trousers and jacket sleeves brought in to follow the contours of your body. You will want to have your dress shirts tailored the same and even your casual shirts if you can’t find something that fits you correctly. Any excess fabric will exaggerate your stature so you want to get rid of it. That same excess-fabric effect is also why smaller men should always stick with flat-front pants instead of pleated trousers.
  • Tailoring your clothing is about more than just the bulk of the fabric. It also applies to the length proportions. You will want to have your jackets altered to show a good amount of sleeve cuff. This will visually elongate your arms and make you appear taller. Same goes for having your pants tailored to have a very slight break or no break at all. By making it look like your legs are poking out of your pants, your legs appear longer and will help you look taller and larger overall.
  • Stick with two-button jackets. A 3/2 roll or a three-button suit will close up too much of your chest and make you appear smaller. For this same reason, your jackets should have a lower button stance.
  • Wearing peak lapels draws the eyes up and outwards. This will give you more visual height and make your shoulders appear larger.
  • Having your jacket pockets angled will also draw the viewers eyes upwards to make you appear taller and help frame your face.
  • Proportion everything down. Smaller men need narrower lapels, slim ties, small shirt collars, even a stubbier tie bar. By sizing everything down, your body appears proportionate with your clothing.

Take a look at the after picture once GQ was done helping this same guy dress according to his build.

 

Other than throwing on a peak lapel, the men at GQ did everything else on the list to help this guy look better. He now looks like he means business.

The last thing you should focus on if you’re a smaller guy is the size and type of your patterns. Just like excessive fabric, patterns that are too large will accentuate the slightness of your stature. Instead you should be wearing small patterns.

Vertical stripes will give you visual height while boxes and checks will give you visual heft. Both of these are your friends in helping your build appear larger than it is.

Here’s one last example from a recent GQ cover to show how all of this is done right.

Proportions are all good here. Small tie, small collar, small tie bar. The patterns are smaller too. Notice how the buttons on the vest end a lot higher than they do on most waistcoats. This makes his whole torso appear longer and gives him more visual height (it works on a vest instead of a jacket because it ends at his waist and doesn’t affect the proportions between his legs and torso where a higher button stance on a jacket would). Rolling the sleeves makes his arms look longer. Even his hair cut being short on the sides and tight all the way up elongates his face and gives him more visual height. There is nothing short or baggy about this look at all and it’s the perfect example of what to emulate if you’re a smaller man.

The last piece of advice I can offer is to look at the bright side. If you’re shorter you probably have a smaller shoe size – which means those killer Allen Edmonds won’t be sold out in your size when they go on sale. Same goes for that online deal to try to get rid of last season’s inventory from J Crew. By having fewer men to compete with in your size, you’re able to spend less money and look better.

PS. Did you know I do private style consultations? I can help you dress better according to your budget and your needs.

TopMan US

Meet The Author


Tanner is the founder and primary author of Masculine Style. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife and two kids, and helps run Beckett & Robb - a men's clothing company built around custom suits and shirts.
  • Louis

    I’m 5’8″, 151 lbs, with a lean, athletic build, so all my sizes are on the smaller side, except for my shoes, which are 10/10.5. I find it much easier to bargain hunt and/or thrift for shoes than I do for all other pieces and I think it’s because I have a more “average” shoe size than jacket size. You’re competing with fewer men when you’re short, but I suspect manufacturers produce fewer pieces at the extremes of the sizing spectrum.

    • sfer

      I agree. I wear a 9 1/2 and thrift store shoes are easy to find.

  • http://embracethehunt.wordpress.com/ Young Hunter

    The same is true for the bigger man who isn’t fat. Shirts in large and above rarely account for any v-taper, let along the more dramatic one a large fit man needs. The extra fabric used in this tent effect could make an additional shirt for a small man. Not a desirable two for one scenario.

    The other problem is if the fit is proper around the torso the shirt is usually too short because the design doesn’t account for your traps raising the shirt up higher.

  • jim

    What’s your take on jeans? Should they be hemmed with little to no break also?

  • Carl Sagan

    6’0 and 190lbs with a 32 inch waist.

    Most of the sweaters I wear are medium and same goes with shirts.

    Surprising how baggy a lot clothes are.

  • LHMX

    I’m 5’7 and 140lbs, so this advice is pure gold. I’ve just recently begun upgrading my wardrobe (helped in large part by your website), and its almost to the point where I feel that I need to get *everything* tailored. After living my whole life with cuffs that fell down below my hands and ‘small’ shirts that billowed around me, I am well and truly done with looking like a little kid in his daddy’s overalls.

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  • http://www.icustomshirts.com/ custom dress shirts

    Correct if I am wrong, but it looks like GQ raised the price on some Shirts